2021 NEA Big Read: Spearfish

Spearfish is reading A Wizard of Earthsea for the 2021 NEA Big Read: Spearfish

The Matthews is a recipient of a grant of $14,000 to host the 2021 NEA Big Read: Spearfish. We are one of 84 nonprofit organizations to receive an NEA Big Read grant. The NEA Big Read: Spearfish will focus on A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin. Activities will take place February – May 2021.

Along with The Matthews, Grace Balloch Memorial Library, and the Black Hill State University School of Arts and Humanities are project partners offering many Big Read events during this program.

The Quest begins February 2021

Starting Tuesday, February 9th, free copies of “A Wizard of Earthsea” will be available for pick up at the Matthews Opera House.

Events Happening This Week: April 12

Matthews Reads Earthsea Podcast

Matthews staff members Kyler Flock and Maegan Detlefs talk about A Wizard of Earthsea and break down the novel’s themes, symbolism, plot, and imagery chapter by chapter.

A Wizard of Earthsea Overview

A Wizard of Earthsea is “the best young adult novel of all time” with a heroic protagonist that’s “Luke Skywalker and Harry Potter and Peter Parker and Frodo Baggins all wrapped up into one,” writes Entertainment Weekly. This award-winning, introspective fantasy novel – the first of six, collectively referred to as the “Earthsea Cycle” – follows the early life of a boy from a remote village whose magical powers, intelligence, and determination get him accepted to wizard school where his pride plunges him into darkness and he must journey far to face his demon. “The most thrilling, wise and beautiful children’s novel ever, it is written in prose as taut and clean as a ship’s sail…. It poses the deep questions about life, death, power and responsibility that children need answering” (The Guardian). Le Guin didn’t publish her first novel until the age of 37, after which she went on to win numerous distinguished awards, including the Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and World Fantasy awards (each more than once), as well as the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters and the Library of Congress’s Living Legend Award.

“To me a novel can be as beautiful as any symphony, as beautiful as the sea.”

from her book The Wave in the Mind

About the Author

Ursula K. Le Guin spent her childhood in California, mainly in Berkeley, where her anthropologist father (Alfred L. Kroeber) was a professor, but also in the Napa Valley, where her family owned a ranch. As a child, she heard Native American myths as bedtime stories, while also having the run of her parents’ library. The young Le Guin read voraciously. Her favorite books included the Norse myths, retellings of folktales and legends from J.G. Frazer’s The Golden Bough (1890), and the fantasy stories of Lord Dunsany. Such a background may explain, in part, Le Guin’s own approach to literature: She was a world–builder. Indeed, just as an anthropologist reports on an indigenous people in as much detail as possible, so a science fiction or fantasy author will build up an elaborate picture of an alien culture and its inhabitants.

In her teens, Le Guin read fantasy and science fiction magazines but also devoured many of the classics of world literature. She once listed her influences as Percy Bysshe Shelley; John Keats; William Wordsworth; Giacomo Leopardi; Victor Hugo; Rainer Maria Rilke; Edward Thomas; Theodore Roethke; Charles Dickens; Leo Tolstoy; Ivan Turgenev; Anton Chekhov; Boris Pasternak; Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë; Virginia Woolf; and E. M. Forster. Among science fiction authors, she had spoken with admiration about the fiction of Cordwainer Smith (Paul M.A. Linebarger); James Tiptree, Jr. (Alice B. Sheldon); and Philip K. Dick. A lifelong interest in Lao Tzu and Taoism eventually led her to translate the Tao-Te-Ching (1999).

Le Guin attended Radcliffe College and then Columbia University, where she earned a master’s degree in Italian and French, with a focus on Renaissance literature. While on a trip to France, she met her future husband, the historian Charles A. Le Guin. The couple settled in Portland, Oregon, with their three children. Le Guin had said that she enjoyed a very regular life there and preferred things to be “kind of dull, basically,” so that she could get on with her work as a writer.

While preferring a quiet routine and privacy, Ursula K. Le Guin did speak out strongly on matters she cared about—American politics, the value of fantasy and science fiction, the importance of reading, and, above all, the condition of women in the arts and society. During much of the 1970s and ’80s, she was a frequent speaker and instructor at writing workshops around the country.

Over the years Le Guin won numerous awards for her novels and stories, including the Hugo and Nebula for science fiction, but also the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award (for A Wizard of Earthsea), the National Book Award, and the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. She was perhaps the most honored writer of science fiction and fantasy of her time—and one of America’s finest writers.

“I do think novels are beautiful. To me a novel can be as beautiful as any symphony, as beautiful as the sea. As complete, true, real, large, complicated, confusing, deep, troubling, soul enlarging as the sea with its waves that break and tumble, its tides that rise and ebb.” —Ursula K. Le Guin, from The Wave in the Mind

NEA Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest.


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